Tattoos are more popular than ever, and people get them to celebrate a relationship, commemorate a goal, or just because they like the look of colorful body art. But what about when you're expecting—is it safe for a woman to get a tattoo while she's pregnant? We spoke to a dermatologist to learn the facts about getting inked during pregnancy.
The short answer is yes, you can get a tattoo when you're pregnant. But it isn't risk-free. “Although you can get a tattoo safely while pregnant, there is [the] potential to contract an infection if the tattoo is not done under sterile or clean conditions," Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York–based dermatologist and Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, tells Health.
Two serious infections that can be transmitted by tattoo needles are hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Both viruses are spread though blood, so if infected blood is left on a tattoo needle and the needle isn't properly cleaned before it pierces your skin, you could become infected with one of these serious diseases.
Another blood-borne infection that might be transmitted by a needle is HIV. The Centers for Disease Control states that there are no known cases of anyone in the United States contracting HIV through a tattoo needle. Still, it is technically possible—if the needle hasn't been properly sterilized and was used on someone who has HIV. Not only could you become infected with HIV, but the fetus is in danger of this virus as well, adds Dr. Nazarian.
HIV and hepatitis B and C aren't the only health risks. Dr. Nazarian says that though rare, it's possible to have a contact allergy to the ingredients in tattoo ink. “The ink from a tattoo cannot reach the fetus, so it’s not directly dangerous," she explains. "But a secondary issue can arise, such as infection or allergy, which can complicate the pregnancy unnecessarily.”
Dr. Nazarian adds that MRSA, a potentially lethal bacterial infection that is resistant to many antibiotics, can strike anytime skin is broken, posing another risk to you and your baby.
Many people "naturally have MRSA on their bodies," says Dr. Nazarian. While getting a tattoo, "these people could have the bacteria introduced into or under their skin and the infection can spread—either on themselves, or even to other people if the same needle is not cleaned and is reused."
The licensing standards and regulation requirements for tattoo artists and parlors vary by region, so it's best to research the regulations in your city or state and then only get a tattoo by a reputable studio with trained artists. Make sure the tattoo artist sterilizes the needles before using them on you, the Mayo Clinic recommends, and also check that all tattoo pigments and other equipment have not been used before. Finally, the tattoo artist should also wear latex gloves to prevent the spread of bacteria.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do is to hold off until after your pregnancy to get a tattoo. “There’s no need to obtain a tattoo urgently and to risk complicating your pregnancy," advises Dr. Nazarian. "I would urge women to wait until afterwards: Safety first."
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